December 30 2011 11:42AM
After a fairly flat performance Thursday night in a 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders, the Calgary Flames get right back at it toinght, visiting the Ottawa Senators for the only time this season (5:30 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960). That's two consecutive meh performances for the Flames, and the Islanders were able to take advantage of them, winning on the scoresheet and in the scoring chance battle, snapping Calgary's four game win streak in the process.
The Flames dropped to 11th in the Western Conference with their loss last night, seeing Colorado vault past them while taking a 3-2 win over the Phoenix Coyotes. The Kings and Wild also got points, while the Stars joined Phoenix on the losing side of things. This is Calgary's second meeting this season with Ottawa, falling 3-1 to the Sens at the Saddledome on November 15th.
The news doesn't sound overly positive on the Derek Smith front after the Flames defenseman left last night's game with what looked to be a lower body injury. He was seen leaving the arena in a walking cast yesterday, and while there is no official word from the Flames yet, the feeling is not one of optimism. However, until we know, let's not jump the gun, because we've seen plenty of bad looking injuries in the past not end up with a lot of missed time. Smith won't play tonight, allowing Anton Babchuk to return to the lineup after missing 23 games with a broken hand.
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Rene Bourque-Mikael Backlund-Lee Stempniak
Blake Comeau-Roman Horak-Paul Byron
Tom Kostopoulos-Brendan Morrison-Tim Jackman
Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Scott Hannan-Anton Babchuk
T.J. Brodie-Cory Sarich
I really don't know how the bottom four defensemen are going to be aligned to be honest, as the Flames obviously didn't skate this morning in Ottawa. Babchuk may go with Sarich moving Brodie into the top four, or it may be a rotating platoon-type scenario there. Things are really getting thin on the Calgary back end, as the Flames have recalled Clay Wilson from Abbotsford of the American Hockey League. At the same time, Joe Piskula has been returned.
Leland Irving gets the start in net, looking to make it three straight quality starts for the rookie. After giving the Flames a chance to win against the Florida Panthers, Irving had a stellar third period against the Vancouver Canucks one week ago. We still need a larger body of work from Irving for us to determine whether there's a true goaltending discussion needing to be had.
Sitting 17-15-5, the Sens sit ninth in the Eastern Conference with 39 points, continuing a very surprising season. Many looked at them and though a lottery pick was the most tangible thing they'd be battling for, but that hasn't been the case whatsoever, as Ottawa looks like a team that might just stay in this playoff race for a little while longer. They're getting decent contributions from their top end and some nice work down the depth chart as well.
Milan Michalek-Jason Spezza-Colin Greening
Erik Condra-Kyle Turris-Daniel Alfredsson
Nick Foligno-Zack Smith-Bobby Butler
Kaspars Daugavins-Zenon Konopka-Chris Neil
Jared Cowen-Sergei Gonchar
Filip Kuba-Erik Karlsson
Chris Phillips-Brian Lee
The Sens are without two of their regular forwards, with centre Peter Regin out long term thanks to a left shoulder injury. He's joined on the shelf by useful depth guy Jesse Winchester who continues to recover from a concussion.
That top line has been deadly for the Sens, with Spezza leading the way with 38 points. Michalek has been the triggerman, firing home a team high 19 goals so far this season, a total that would likely be higher had he not been slowed by a concussion that kept him out five games. While Karlsson may not be a guy you rely on in the toughest of minutes, he's definitely very dangerous and his 33 points speaks directly to that.
Knowing how hot the "Turris to Calgary" talk was on Twitter and the message boards, it'll be interesting to see the young centre in game action for the Sens. I'll admit, I haven't seen a bunch of him since he joined them; I was never a fan of him as a player with Phoenix, but maybe a change of scenery is exactly what he needs. Since joining Ottawa, Turris has three assists in four games.
One area that hasn't exceeded expectations? Goaltending. The Senators netminding has been suspect to awful this season, with Craig Anderson giving them replacement-ish stuff as the guy getting the bulk of the starts. His even strength save percentage hovers just over the .900 mark with his overall number south of that; he was pretty good for the Sens upon his arrival last year, but hasn't carried that over to his first full campaign with them. Alex Auld has only been slightly better, and he gets the start in net tonight.
Calgary was fortunate to pry points out of Columbus, and the fact they got two was significant in that the team hasn't won a lot of games they hadn't been good in this season. One thing they have done is lose a lot of games they haven't been good in, and Thursday's defeat on Long Island was no different. The Flames are still 10-4-3 over a 17 game span, so all isn't negative here, but getting the type of play that has seen them rack up some of those wins is what we need to see tonight.